Cannot see the world breaking away from cotton & polyester
Cotton has been under pressure due to anthropogenic activities, climate change, etc. On the other hand, polyester, a fossil fuel fibre, is known to cause oceanic pollution. Fibre2Fashion spoke to some fibre industry professionals to know the fate of these two fibres in the long run and whether new sustainable fibres replacing the former two will be more affordable.
Looking at cotton, we have seen numerous organisations innovating with sustainable cotton, and production practices which fundamentally reduce the use of resources like water and solvents. Processes such as upcycling, recycling and blending with other sustainable fibres are also becoming more common. Whilst sustainable cotton still represents a small proportion of total cotton sales, we expect brands to continue innovating in this space to bolster the environmental credentials of cotton and clothing made from its fibres.
You hit the nail on the head. In case of polyester, the quantities increased in the last couple of years by I don’t know how many times. There is not a single textile which perhaps had not been made or attempted to be made out of polyester—whether it is a t-shirt or cushion, be it good or bad. But the prime selling reason was always price. I am not saying all polyester products are bad, not at all. There are good polyester products, and they have their way. Look at which other fibres are pushed aside because of pricing. If you look at acrylic fibre, it used to be a synthetic wool and there used to be a market for that at some point in time. But for 10 years now there has been a constant decline because polyester has taken over its spot. So, unfortunately, we are losing a variety of textile products. We are such a price-driven society these days that everything needs to be a little cheaper and if you blend in a little polyester here, you can still bring down the price and still make a decent textile fabric. So, your assessment that are we caught in a trap is very valid.
Increasing global demand for alternatives to fossil-based textiles and resource intensive cotton is driving innovation in the industry both up and downstream. Production processes for current manmade cellulosic fibres and especially new fibres already focus on closed loops reusing chemicals and water, and in the future recycling materials to a greater extent. There are many ongoing projects focused on developing sustainable production technologies for new fibres.
At Polygiene, we are all about prolonging the life of the product (mostly textiles) by giving it certain features (anti-odour, antibacterial, antiviral, etc) with good performance to enable a more sustainable lifestyle. We do not see the world breaking away in a big way from cotton or polyester; we rather believe that circularity will be the next step towards sustainability. This includes both remarketing of finished products which have been refurbished as well as recycled fibres. There will be new fibres coming from new sources like we have seen with hemp and bamboo, but we believe these will be more in addition to the existing fibres to support more sustainable production.
We don’t necessarily need new fibres to solve the cotton/polyester dilemma. All our viscose fibres are made from renewable, not genetically modified wood pulp and are fully biodegradable—yet during our manufacturing process we can design them to precisely meet our customers’ demands. By combining sustainability with performance, we offer an alternative to crude oil based materials in many different applications while exceeding the performance levels of natural fibres in many aspects. At the same time, we observe a lot of promising approaches in the fields of alternative or recycled raw materials. There won’t be the one “saviour material” that will substitute all that polyester—there will be a diversity of fibres.
Sustainability is probably the most discussed issue in the textiles industry today; so much that it has become a priority and is challenging all players in the supply chain. The textiles sector is experiencing a real turning point with important investments in the research and development of new solutions in the name of sustainability. MIC started long before this new trend: in 2008 MIC developed Bio-Cotton, biological cotton 100 per cent sewing thread obtained from biological cultivations (Bio-Cotton was the world’s first sewing thread to get GOTS certification). Furthermore, MIC developed GRS, a line of recycled polyester yarns obtained from postconsumer packaging materials, certified GRS 2019- 210 by ICEA, an agency that verifies the traceability of recycled raw materials and processing along the entire supply chain.
No, I do not (see that). Cotton has been used for thousands of years. Polyester—and I include nylon and spandex here—have moved to the head of the “valued” textiles because of their unique balance of textile properties, value and cost position. There have been many attempts to replace these textile fibres with greener ones, but in the end the balance of properties and value are just not there. Rather than starting with an existing “green” polymer and accepting compromised textile properties, the industry will focus on making these leading textile fibres greener. As an example, consumers love the stretch and recover that only spandex can bring; so, Hyosung has developed Creora bio-based spandex which replaces 30 per cent of petroleum-based raw materials with ones that are made from renewable corn. Not only does this yarn reduce greenhouse gas, but it also avoids extracting non-renewable petroleum-based resources from the earth.
Published on: 25/05/2021
DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.